A team of two or three burglars can ransack your home and make off with your most-prized possessions within five minutes. Any fewer and it takes too long to case the joint, any more and it's not worth the split of the proceeds.
This seemingly professional logic emerged from a survey of ex-burglars conducted by security company ADT. And just like the way you or I might do some research ahead of a business meeting, good thieves do the same. In fact, almost three-quarters of the ex- burglars ADT talked to said they had staked out the properties they were planning to target at least once in the 24-hour period before they broke in.
Homes with no security measures in place are five times more likely to be burgled than those with simple security measures, say the police. And no one type of security device alone lowers the risk but they add that "the presence of multiple security devices in combination was associated with significantly lower risk of being a victim of burglary".
Nowhere to hide
Once squeezed through a window left ajar or having kicked in a flimsy back door, thieves know exactly what they're looking for. Easily portable, high value goods such as laptops, cash, jewellery, smartphones and bikes - the perfect getaway vehicle - were the most claimed-for items on contents insurance after theft was reported to insurer LV= in February. The average claim was for £1,085.
Burglars know exactly where to find your valuables, so don't fool yourself that the thieving swines will never find your hiding place. After snatching anything lying around, those secret hideaways are where burglars look next – the sock drawer, under the bed, the top shelf of the wardrobe. Then it's on to the not so obvious hiding places – the washing machine, fridge and even cereal boxes.
In fact, there aren't any real hiding places left anymore. So what can you do to make sure your house doesn't get robbed in the first place?
Give a burglar an inch and they'll rob you blind. So first things first, apply some common sense. Keep your windows and doors locked whenever possible. Trim back any trees or bushes that could shield troublemakers from passers-by at the front of your home. You could think about joining your local Neighbourhood Watch scheme or, at the very least, display one of its stickers on your front door or window. Same goes for getting a dog.
Next, turn your attention to lighting.
If your home is set back from a well-lit main road, make the most of your property's own illuminations. We're not talking Blackpool-style Christmas decorations – a couple of wall-mounted, motion-activated security cameras at the front, back and maybe sides of your home might be ideal.
You can pick them up cheaply enough from the likes of B&Q, where prices range from around £15 to £35. However, if you don't already have an outside power supply once you factor in the cost of an electrician, the price can climb sharply. But you can get around the cost by getting smart with your inside lights.
Timer switches and plugs have been around for decades but they've been superseded by a number of clever gadgets dedicated to making your property look occupied when no one's home. For example, the WeMo Switch from Belkin taps into your Wi-Fi and allows you to control your lights, TV, and radio (as well as many other appliances) from your smartphone. This means your whole family can be out but it appears as though everyone's in.
The smartplug costs around £40 from the Belkin website, but the control app (available on Android and Apple devices) is free. A more expensive version of the plug, which includes a sensor function, is available for £80.
Good window locks and strong deadlocks can make a big difference when it comes to avoiding burglary, say the police, but these are only considered as basic security devices. If you want something sturdier, what are the options?
Some members of the The Master Locksmiths Association recommend installing a 'patented' or ‘restricted lock' to boost home security by helping to ensure extra keys can't be made without your knowledge. It adds that the installation of such a system means previous owners or tenants shouldn't still have access to your home.
Patented keys carry legal protection, preventing copies of keys being made without providing proof of ownership. And restricted keys are unlikely to be copied due to their unusual design and unique mechanical features.
The locks don't usually come cheap. For example, the Banham EL4000 Rim Deadbolt with Electric Release, which comes with two patented keys, will set you back £510. But with a saw-resistant steel bolt, this high security lock could certainly help bring you peace of mind.
Burglar alarms are another powerful deterrent – they can sound an alert when an intruder is detected and they can be hooked up to a live security response service. This is why the mere sight of one fitted on the front of a property can be enough to scare off intruders.
They are so effective that some people buy fake alarms, which aren't actually connected to anything and don't make a noise. Amazon sells one for less than £9. Of course, real alarm companies argue that burglars can spot these a mile off – some even have research to prove it.
If you're thinking about installing the real thing, there are two main types. The first is a standard alarm that has a ringer, which makes a noise whenever a circuit is tripped. On Amazon, the most simple products start at around £6.50 and more sophisticated models easily sell for more like £50.
"The problem with these alarms though," explains Jonathan Ratcliffe at security company CCTV.co.uk, which specialises in cameras as well as alarms, "is that most people ignore them when they go off. No one reacts because they're too common."
The other option for householders is a monitored alarm. These are connected to a keyholder or alarm-receiving centre (ARC). When the alarm goes off, the homeowner is contacted to check whether they're at home and it's a false alarm or in case a burglary may be in process. Depending on the system installed, some alarms result in a visit from the police.
The cost of installing a monitored alarm varies greatly. But it's common to pay around £100 for the initial installation of an alarm and any accompanying sensors, and then a monthly fee for the monitoring, which can be anything from £15 a month for a basic response. A police response will cost significantly more.
Sophisticated alarm systems are usually complemented by the presence of security cameras. For instance, Tesco sells the Byron ELRO CS11d Feel Safe Security Camera for £8. But you get what you pay for. While a cheap and cheerful model might be suitable for you if you're looking to install a camera to ward off prospective burglars the more you pay, the more security you get.
CCTV.co.uk says its most popular home camera package consists of two cameras which can be connected to an alarm system. They're both fitted externally, at the front and back of the property, with one usually facing down the drive or entranceway to the building.
At a cost of £650 to buy and install the cameras, the CCTV comes with a recorder box, which looks a bit like a DVD player, and is usually set up near to your TV and broadband router, where you can easily view the footage. The cameras record for 30 days non-stop before the recordings over-write themselves. You get a USB dongle, or memory stick, which you can use to save the footage on to give to the police should a burglary take place.
The system comes with remote monitoring as standard, so as long as you've connected the system to your broadband, you can log into it from wherever you are using your smartphone to check what the cameras are picking up. This is ideal if your burglar alarm goes off while you're at work and you want to check if it's a false alarm.
But the real beauty of adding cameras to your alarm system is that "you can take immediate action," says Ratcliffe. "When a monitored alarm system that has cameras goes off, the system immediately sends a photo of the room where the alarm has been activated to the keyholder or ARC. So that person can instantly see what's triggered the alarm – a burglar or the dog."
He adds that with the company's two-camera alarm system outlined above, if a burglary is in progress, it gets reported to the police who will respond immediately. In contrast, if a burglary is reported to the police after the event, they often don't get to the property for 48 hours.
If you're willing to pay real big bucks, you could also have microphones added to your alarm and camera package. Footballer Michael Owen famously had such a system installed at his home and when his home was later burgled, the alarm was activated and notified the ARC, which in turn used the microphones to tell the burglars the police were on their way. The police arrived very quickly and were able to arrest the intruders on the spot.
But at a cost of thousands of pounds, such systems are beyond the reach – and need – of most homeowners.
Generally, student households and households in rented accommodation are the least likely to have basic security measures in place and the most likely to be burgled. So whether you want to protect your own home, the home your children live in or the one your tenants live in, use some common sense and get security smart.